In director Dheeraj Akolkar’s“Liv and Ingmar,” Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann recounts her life-long relationship with famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Filmed at the house they shared together, Ullmann talks openly about the sometimes overlapping phases of their relationship – friends, lovers, professional filmmakers – that began when she met Bergman at the age of 25 (Bergman was 47) and lasted in one form or another up until his death in 2007.
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Akolkar mimics the gentle intensity of Bergman’s cinematic style – the close-ups, the raw emotion, the amped-up ticking clock – while weaving together love letters, family photos and black-and-white home movies. Incidents described by Ullmann eerily reflect scenes from their films, which Akolkar intersperses throughout the movie. Sometimes it’s unclear whether Samuel Fröler (the voice of Ingmar Bergman) is reading from a screenplay or a love letter.
“Liv and Ingmar” is not about approximating objectivity, which turns out to be both a strength and weakness. Listening to Ullmann is like sitting across from an old friend you haven’t seen in ages talking about the great love of her life. If you’re a fan, that will suffice. But if you’re looking for more perspective than Ullmann’s single voice can provide, “Liv and Ingmar” will be a frustrating evening at the movies.
For example, there is no mention of what may be the greatest irony regarding Ullmann and Bergman’s almost five-decade long relationship: While they may have shared one of the most significant bonds of their lives, they never married, although they did have a daughter together. Not that they were averse to wedlock – Ullmann married twice, Bergman five times.
Early in the film, she describes Bergman as the man “who changed my life.” Of their first summer together at Fårö Island, Ullmann says “It was like no other…soft walls of sunlight and desire and happiness.” Ullmann uses the word “childish” to describe their relationship at this point, although she probably meant to say “childlike.” Her misstatement about their first year together, however, would appropriately describe their next four years on the Island.
Ullmann mentions a dream Ingmar once had, from which he discerned they were “painfully connected.” The film confirms as much through powerful sounds and images: her voice, at the age 74, unguarded, sometimes almost quivering; the silence, beauty and isolation that was their home, hidden behind a stone wall Bergman had built on Fårö Island, surrounded by the Baltic Sea.
Ullmann says she began to feel imprisoned, yet succumbed to Bergman's demands because she thought it would make him feel secure. Still, he became increasingly jealous, suspicious, even violent – more psychological than physical, according to Ullmann – which sometimes crossed over into irrational, misdirected anger on the set. He used his urge to cut-off Liv from the outside world as fodder for his art.
Looking back, she says, “Only when it was all over did we become friends.”
“Liv and Ingmar” is must-see viewing for fans of the nine 20th century films these two made together over a thirteen-year span – “Persona” (1965) to “Autumn Sonata” (1978) – a period of fevered inspiration that also included “Hour of the Wolf” (1968), “The Passion of Anna” (1968), “Cries and Whispers” (1972) and “Scenes from a Marriage” (1973). They did not work together again for over two decades, making "Faithless" (2000) – Ullmann's direction, Bergman's screenplay – and "Saraband" (2003).
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